Category Archives: Law School

Why Law School?

As jobs for lawyers disappear in the mist, applications for law school have risen 7%, according to the National Law Journal.  One explanation is that law school applicants are going underground.

“It’s absolutely consistent with every recession we’ve seen, with more people looking to graduate programs and into law school,” said Jim Leipold, the executive director of NALP, formerly the National Association for Law Placement. “Historically, it’s not been a bad strategy. I do think, for the immediate future, there are going to be fewer entry-level jobs at law firms.”

The other is that hope springs eternal.  Though the Biglaw job market has tanked, applicants think they will be the one to grasp the golden ring. 

Over at Above the Law, debate has broken out. Elie Mystal has taken the position that law school is a bad investment, apparently siding with the Law is for Losers contingent of the Slackoisie.  This position is characterized by people who cared deeply about being lawyers provided they made big money, easy work and nothing to interfere with happy hour.  For those who view law school as a financial investment, it’s certainly not a great bet.

David Lat, on the other hand, takes the opposing view and offers five arguments:

1. If a law degree is like a lottery ticket, remember: some people still win.
2. There are many great career options in law outside of large law firms.
3. What else are you going to do with yourself?
4. Not everyone graduates with debt (or with as much debt as some people think).
5. You get to put “Esq.” after your name.

While presented in his typical humorous fashion, Lat’s fifth argument, which he acknowledges is literally lame, is figuratively important.

The law is a learned and a noble profession, and some people truly are meant to be lawyers. In order to become a lawyer, you (generally) need to go to law school. So law school isn’t all bad — or is at least a necessary evil — and fair coverage of the world of legal education should reflect this.

Some people truly want to be lawyers.  They want to wake up in the morning and look forward to a day of practicing law.  Not just the young and naive, all filled with the transitory zeal that lasts until the mortgage payment is due, but those who realize that being a lawyer is hard work.  Tell me how you feel about it after five, ten or twenty years of banging your head against a wall, and realizing that the wall usually wins the battle.

The problem can be cut down to size with the realization that pretty much anybody can become a lawyer, but not everybody should.  So many of the problems, the race to the gutter, that face lawyers today are caused by the glut combined with the absence of any real calling.  No, this is not just a business.  No, this is not the guaranteed path to wealth and prestige.  No, this is not for everybody who can get into law school or pass the bar. 

At the same time, those who denigrate the law as a losing proposition miss the point as well.  Their disgust at their situation is misplaced anger, blaming the law for their own poor choice of entering a profession in which they don’t belong.  Mark Bennett posts his responses to an angst-ridden twitterer doing document review.

I could have been a contender instead of what I am, a document review attorney.

No, you couldn’t have been a contender, because that choice was, and remains, available but you’ve chosen your path.

There are thousands of people who need lawyers for one thing or another—family law cases, landlord-tenant disputes, consumer disputes—but can’t find competent counsel because the number of competent lawyers willing to work for $50 an hour is exceedingly small.

Representing people in such disputes is not glamorous—your fellow document reviewers might even call it “shitlaw”—and you’ll never get rich doing it right, but it’s a service to your fellow humans, and you can make a living while working for people who are grateful for your time and your service. Show some competence—hell, show some interest—in such cases, and I’ll spread your name far and wide to our fellow lawyers who would appreciate having someone to refer the small stuff to. Maybe it’ll even grow into something bigger, so that instead of just making a living, you’re a success.

The problem isn’t the law, the unavailability of big money jobs, or the luck of the draw.  The problem is that this person should never have been a lawyer in the first place. 

Lat is right, a lawyer gets to put “Esq.” after his name.  It’s not about the Esq., but about wanting to be the Esq. and about the Esq. being all you need to march your butt out the door every morning and finding a person who needs an Esq. and serving them.  If that’s not what you had in mind, or doesn’t pay enough, or isn’t sufficiently prestigious, or just plain makes you feel badly about your sorry lot in life, then the only person you have to blame is yourself. 

If you want to be a lawyer, be a lawyer.  If not, take your degree and run away as fast as you can.  We certainly don’t need more miserable people running around crying about the misery of their lawyer lives, and you are never going to be a “contender”.  But if you know all of this about the law, and still want to jump in and do the hard, often painful and occasionally unprofitable work of being a lawyer, it remains a learned and noble profession. 

The few of you who feel this way are the ones who were truly meant to be a lawyer.  You will find your place in the law, and there will be no wall that will dissuade you.  You may never get rich, but you will get your reward.

Can You Hear Me Now?

Being a trench lawyer rather than scholar, and this being a blawg rather than law review (you can tell by the absence of footnotes), it comes as no surprise that the Academy pays no heed to my constant urging that it pull its collective head out of its butt and recognize that things are not swell in the marbled hallways of the ivy-covered buildings in which they toil in wood-paneled offices thinking profound thoughts.

But that’s just me.  I’m easily dismissed as just another vulgar lawyer lacking an appreciation of the need for the law school/industrial complex that supports the professorship in its quest for tenure and pedagogic hegemony.  What can you expect from those whose brain is too feeble to appreciate the need for theory rather than the nuts and bolts of a trade school?  Brian Tamanaha, however, is not so easily dismissed.

Tamanaha is the Chief Judge Benjamin N. Cardozo Professor of Law Professor at St. John’s Law School. After taking note of the blogs of misery and bitterness by disaffected law school graduates, he writes at Balkanization :

Their complaint is that non-elite law schools are selling a fraudulent bill of goods. Law schools advertise deceptively high rates of employment and misleading income figures. Many graduates can’t get jobs. Many graduates end up as temp attorneys working for $15 to $20 dollars an hour on two week gigs, with no benefits. The luckier graduates land jobs in government or small firms for maybe $45,000, with limited prospects for improvement. A handful of lottery winners score big firm jobs.

And for the opportunity to enter a saturated legal market with long odds against them, the tens of thousands newly minted lawyers who graduate each year from non-elite schools will have paid around $150,000 in tuition and living expenses, and given up three years of income. Many leave law school with well over $100,000 in non-dischargeable debt, obligated to pay $1,000 a month for thirty years.

This, of course, is nothing new, except to those law students who were swept into the dream for lack of diligence and excess of optimism.  Yet law schools remained bizarrely disconnected, as if this situation had nothing whatsoever to do with them.

Wait a minute, we protest.

Law professors are not scammers. We advance the rule of law and justice. We promote efficient legal institutions. We develop legal knowledge and knowledge about law for the good of society. We are the conscience of the legal profession. Indeed, we made a financial sacrifice to become academics when we could have earned more money as practicing lawyers.

The students made their choices. They should have done more research. They should have thought more carefully about the consequences of taking on so much debt. It was their foolish over-optimism to think they would place among the top 10% of the class and land the scarce corporate law jobs. They should have known better. (If the numbers on our website are misleading it’s the Administration’s fault; and we don’t set the high tuition.) Don’t blame us.

It is their dream to become a lawyer—we provide them with the opportunity and what they make of it is up to them. Besides, a law degree is valuable even if you don’t get a job as a lawyer. It improves your reasoning ability. It opens all kinds of doors.

Isn’t it amazing how mass hysteria will contort even the sharpest minds when it’s in their personal self-interest?  The ability to rationalize one of the cushiest jobs in the world distinguishes scholars from trench lawyers.  We are subject to the banal rules of supply and demand.  The Academy has managed to defy them.  You’ve got to give them credit.  If we could, we would all thumb our noses at the laws of physics, among other things.  Who wouldn’t want to walk the courthouse halls humming “defying gravity?”

More crucially, law schools must shrink the number of graduates, and must hold the line on tuition increases. (The fact that many students get scholarships is no answer because it simply means that some students, those paying full fare—often the students with the worst prospects—are subsidizing others.) This will be painful: smaller raises (perhaps even salary reductions), smaller administrations, smaller faculties, more teaching, less money for research, travel, and conferences.

Oh, so close.  As it currently stands, they are putting out 45,000 graduates per year for 30,000 jobs.  And the jobs aren’t all that great.  The graduates aren’t equipped to do much lawyering, since they are heavily steeped in theory and not expected to gain proficiency in actual lawyer work.  But the problem at the outset, the only one Tamanaha is considering, is the just the bottom of the iceberg.  Five years, ten years later, it continues.  The perpetuation saturates the profession and is, from my seat, the driving force in our race to the bottom.

Too many lawyers.  Too many lawyers who either aren’t very good lawyers or don’t have the opportunity to be the good lawyer they might otherwise be, competing for the scarce dollars. Too many good lawyers, hard-working lawyers, still competing for the scarce dollars.  A profession reduced to a trade, because even lawyers have to put shoes on their kids’ feet.

I applaud Brian Tamanaha’s fortitude in taking on the orthodoxy of the Academy.  Too many others have just hid their head in the sand (or elsewhere) to preserve their lifestyle at the expense of their students and the job they might have been forced to work had they not become one of the elite.  There will no doubt be fine minds parsing Tamanaha’s words to prove that the fix will destroy life as we know it, leaving society in ruins without the articulation of an alternative theory of due process at the Ministry of Magic.

While Tamanaha not only recognizes that things have gone awry, and that a melt down is coming if left alone, his solutions don’t go nearly far enough.  And as with most painful solutions, it’s best done one time rather than death by a thousand knives.

We are producing far, far too many lawyers.  It’s time to cut output by half, both by closing law schools as well as cutting class size.  Society doesn’t need them. Society cannot support them.  And because we are lawyers, and can cause a lot of trouble with our idle hands, society cannot tolerate them.

But it’s not, as suggested by the disaffected law school graduate blogs, merely a matter of how recent graduates can’t find sufficiently gainful employment.  It’s not a simply a matter of tuition being ridiculously high to cover the price of scholarship.  It’s far more pervasive, and far more pernicious.  These kids just don’t realize how far the problem goes yet as they are stuck at step one.  Lawyers ten years out, twenty years out, suffer the long term consequences.  Tamanaha is only listening to the squeaky wheels at the moment.  Or maybe he’s trying to make it more palatable to his own by limiting this to only the most pressing problems, with the larger problems to be left for another day.

This is not to place blame only on the shoulders of law schools and lawprofs.  There’s plenty to go around, from putative law students to experienced lawyers.  But the over-production of lawyers is central to the many problematic penumbras the one-time profession faces, and the Academy couldn’t care less what trench lawyers have to say about it, even though we suffer for their choices.

As long as law schools continue to fill every empty chair without regard to what it is doing to the profession for the primary purpose of funding their own lifestyle, we will never stop the slide of the profession into the gutter.  And it will inevitably be the end of society’s tolerance for lawyers. 

If you won’t listen to me (and we both know you won’t), listen to Brian Tamanaha.  Stop denying it. Deal with it.  And step back and take the long view of the harm over-production is doing.  It’s destroying my profession now.  Yours will be next when the pyramid scheme of law school collapses.

Raising the Next Generation of Suckers

P.T. Barnum is famously attributed  with the phrase, “there’s a sucker born every minute.”  The lesson for scoundrels is to get your tentacles into the young’uns as early as possible, preferably before they realize that you’re a scoundrel.  After all, once they’ve been sucked dry, who cares?

Due to an inadvertent twit by Norm Pattis yesterday, I stumbled onto another in the vast array of legal social media marketers, who now outnumber lawyers 17 to 1.  Those are tough odds, and as any decent bookie knows, tough odds demand tough ideas.  This marketer, Jay Pinkert, calling his blog Scatterbox, didn’t disappoint. 

Playing on the fear of every law student, that the last job has been taken and there’s no more left for you, he tacitly offers up the solution.  Can you guess what it is?  That’s right!  Social Media!  The answer to every law students dream, to blog or twitter your way to fame and success.  It’s bad enough that lawyers with silent telephones are willing to march into this fool’s paradise, but these are students who have yet to wet their whistle in the law.

Then comes the missing link of social media salesmanship, the big lie. 

Probably the most famous student blawgger [sic] exemplar is Rex Gradeless of  the Social Media Law Student blog, who built a large a loyal following through advocacy of technology innovation in the practice of law. I thought it might be interesting and useful to start looking for other student voices and other approaches that exhibit aptitude and passion for the medium.

And what about Rex commends social media?  He has a loyal following?  He’s techno loving?  He’s got more than 76,000 followers on twitter?  Very impressive.  He’s also unemployed, but you won’t see any mention of that in the post.  Rex graduated law school last year, and despite being asked to give talks to bar associations about how to amass twitter followers, it hasn’t served to start him on the road to being a lawyer. 

Before anyone yells at me for picking on Rex, it’s not his fault that he was chosen as the bearded lady for this post.  He’s just a pawn in the social media marketing game, though he’s certainly done everything in his power to make himself the biggest pawn in town.  There is a point to writing about this, and pointing fingers as needed.  For every dopey comment from a law student savant who knows all there is about the world and doesn’t need a dinosaur like me telling them what’s what, I get 100 emails from other law students who see themselves in these posts challenging their misconceptions, who realize that their pipedreams will go up in smoke if they follow the easy path to success. They want to believe the lies, especially when that’s all they hear.  But they appreciate the dose of reality that saves them from playing Barnum’s fool.  The only secret to success is hard work, two words you will never hear uttered by a social media marketer.

This isn’t to suggest that blogging, or twitting, or FBing, or whatever flavor of social media comes along tomorrow-ing, is a bad thing to do.  It’s not like Rex couldn’t find a job because of his twitter status, though he, along with some other new lawyers have likely elevated their profile for the wrong reasons and done themselves some significant damage in their prospects for gainful employment in the process.  Blog if you want.  Twit to your heart’s content.  Have fun, provided it doesn’t suck time away from more useful activities. 

But don’t listen to the social media snake oil salesmen.  Ignore the charlatans who lie by omission to hook you while you’re young and naive, wanting more than anything to believe that there’s a magic bullet that will bring you the success you were told would follow three years of law school and about $100,000 of debt. 

As for the scoundrels who aren’t satisfied with their efforts to scam lawyers into their clutches, but want to get law students hooked before they know better, let me offer another quote, this one from Pink Floyd:  Leave them kids alone.

Law School Lessons: The Teacup Rule

Over at PrawfsBlawg, Dave Fagundes posts another of the beloved lists of 10 that seem to permeate the blawgosphere, this one about things he wished he knew  before he stated teaching law.  Not being a lawprof, I defer to the Dave’s list, which strikes me as pretty good.  But two items stood out.

5.  It’s easy to lose sight of how fragile student egos can be.  It’s getting to the point where I can no longer say “I was a law student not too long ago,” but if I think back, I can still recall the anxiety of being called on in class, and the attendant embarrassment if it didn’t go well.  I try to constantly remind myself of this when teaching, because student anxiety/sensitivity is an inevitable factor in the classroom and one that requires delicate management.  In light of this, I make a big effort to stress when a student has hit the right answer to a question, and correlatively try to find the kernel of value in even off-base student contributions.  Related, on the rare occasions when a student is so visibly wracked with anxiety upon getting called on that they’re visibly struggling, I have no problem moving on and sparing them (though often informally arranging to call on them in the next class so they have a chance to redeem themselves).

This it the Teacup Rule.  If memory serves, its genesis is the reviews that law students write about their professors at the end of a course, where they get to say whether they loved or hated the lawprof.  These surveys have something to do with tenure, compensation and breast/penis size.  Lawprofs care deeply about their students liking them.

Unfortunately, it also involves one of the most important lessons a student can learn about being a lawyer.  We lose. We are often treated like dirt in court.  We are put on the spot constantly, and humiliated when we fail to perform.  And rightfully so.  People’s lives rest in our hands, and yet lawprofs coddle students for fear that their fragile egos might crack.  If they can’t handle a decent humiliation in a class with similarly fragile, yet empathetic, law students, however will they survive a vicious thrashing in court before their client?

Toughen up, teacup.  No matter how brilliant you think you (and your argument) may be, the day will come when you will be told in no uncertain terms that you are laughably wrong.  Will you cry?  Will you run out of the courtroom ashamed?  Will you write a bad review of the judge?  Will your mass of hurt feelings do anything to help your client?

For crying out loud, there is likely no lesson more critical to the practice of law, and weeding out those who have no business doing it, than the strength of character necessary to face humiliation and maintain the fight.  And yet, the lesson is just the opposite.  No wonder why young lawyers find the practice of law so miserable.  They are taught that it’s all about making them feel good about themselves, when the harsh reality is that no one, but no one, in the courthouse cares about their fragile ego.

A corollary to the Teacup Rule can be found in Dave’s seventh “thing”:

7.  Jokes have to be deployed with the utmost caution.  A well-timed, truly funny joke can be a great way to liven up a class.  But the danger is that a joke that doesn’t go over well—or, worse, offends someone—can have just the opposite effect.  The first time I taught copyright, for example, I made a snarky remark about the painting at issue in Lee v. A.R.T. (which is kinda depressing—see what you think here), and a student raised her hand and said icily, “Annie Lee is my favorite artist.  I think her painting is wonderful.”  Ouch.  That moment was tough to get past, and was a wake-up call that even  an innocuous remark can have unforeseen consequences (see #5, “Fragile student egos,” above).

A joke might offend someone?  Nobody ever gets offended in a courtroom.  Or a law office, Or in real life on the street.

What life exists within such a bubble, where tepid is elevated to an artform?  Some fairly raunchy jokes are told in the hallways, in the bar across the street.  At bench conferences.  Perhaps it would do the “Annie Lee law student” better to learn that nobody, anywhere, ever, cares whether she is her favorite artist, and if that makes her icy, then she should be prepared to be frozen.

It’s bad enough that the teacups think, feel and act as they do.  That the rules of the lawprof game are to encourage this teacup behavior is absurd.  If these law students are ever to be lawyer, then they will need to toughen up to the realities of the practice of law.  If they can’t handle it, then maybe they shouldn’t be lawyers. But under no circumstances should this be the lesson of law school, that the practice of law revolves around their fragile sensibilities.  While it may enhance the lawprof’s body part on the student surveys, you’re doing them no favors by enforcing their expectation that nobody is every going to hurt their feelings.

A tougher lawprof might produce a tougher lawyer.

Common Sense in the Hands of Dilettantes

Over at PrawfsBlawg, Howard Wasserman, forsaking the pedagogical oath to make everything sound more academic than it is, concludes that the law is dead.

Not that blogs need to have themes, but it occurs to me that the common link between Jonathan’s post on the call for a non-lawyer Supreme Court justice and Dave’s post on the movie about the Bonds baseball (which I must see) is the public’s lack of respect for lawyers, legal knowledge, and the legal system. There is a belief that they could do better–in making constitutional law or figuring out the best way to resolve a dispute over a baseball) simply by applying good-old common sense. Special legal training or knowledge not only is unnecessary, it is an actual impediment to the best outcomes. Lawyers, or those who resort to lawyers, are taking the wrong tack.

Not only is the law unhelpful to the resolution of legal stuff, but an impediment.  The public wants to replace it “simply by applying good-old common sense.”  Anyone who has read SJ for a while knows that those two words, “common sense,” are my least favorite.  Anyone who embraces those words will not be invited for dinner.

From this ignominious start, another lawprof, Jeff Lipshaw , connects the dots to Stanford Law School.  Before addressing the substance of Lipshaw’s post, however, I must quote this sentence/paragraph;

So was Larry Cunningham’s post yesterday at Concurring Opinions, discussing Louis Menand’s essay on the anxiety inherent in academic interdisciplinarity.

Interdisciplinarity?  Shoot me now.  Yet this word, more so than any other, captures the essence of what follows.  It seems that Larry Kramer, dean of SLS, will revolutionize law school.  That’s right, revolutionize (maybe resulting in revolutionality?).  Here’s Lipshaw’s summary of the revolution.

1.  The first year of law school largely works, and that will continue largely unchanged.
2.  The second and third years of law school largely don’t work.
3.  The law school will be a portal to the university in the second and third years, giving students tremendous flexibility in designing course and clinical packages that take advantage of ALL of the university’s graduate and professional programs.  This isn’t just more joint degree programs (but many are available), but the opportunity to make the education underlying even the J.D. as interdisciplinary as the student wants.  The educational impetus is that it’s no longer true that a lawyer can obtain the skills he or she needs to succeed merely by studying legal doctrine with law professors and other law students.
4.  All students will get an opportunity to spend at least one quarter in a full time clinical experience – with no competing classes or projects.

The first one seems okay.  The second, true.  The fourth, well, probably not enough and a bit short of revolutionary.  And then there’s the third.

Interdisciplinarity. Likely taught by interdisciplinarians.  Why?  Lipshaw explains.

I’ve gone on record as suggesting the professional judgment of a business lawyer requires not just interdisciplinary skills, but a “meta” ability to deal with many disciplines, something I call the discipline of metadisciplinarity (or, as I referred to it in a talk at Boston College a few weeks back, the very deep art of knowing how and when to be shallow).  Metadisciplinarity asks one to engage, as a practitioner, with the interplay between technical expertise and common sense, or, as an academic, with the tension between specialized knowledge and dilettantism.

Aaarrggghhh.  There are those two words again.  My eyes are burning.  Under the Stanford Revolution, law schools will now broaden the legal education to include all the other aspects of life that will enable them to be metadisciplinaritists, engaging the “interplay” between technical expertise and common sense.”  There’s a dilettante in the room, and he’s called “Professor”.

Here’s the deal, plain and simple.  That whole meta-inter-disciplarnialotomist thing you’re promoting?  We call that undergrad.  If you didn’t get enough of it there, then there’s always the school of hard knocks.  We call that life.  Are you eggheads kidding us?  You’re going to charge kids who couldn’t get into Med School $40 grand a year to take the electives they missed the first time around and call that law school?  Are you nutz?

The point of “common sense” is that it can’t be taught.  Not even at Stanford, or even a school without a men’s fencing team.  If you’ve got to teach, you don’t have it.  I can just smell the next step, the Stanford Law Review of Common Sense (Metadisciplinary Edition). 

But the other point of “common sense” is that it doesn’t exist.  It’s a mere fiction that we each create in the dark part of our brain to explain and justify those things we truly believe when we have no real basis.  It’s the phrase that allows us to skip over reason and get right to the outcome we desire. And it’s different in each of us, which is why we’re at each other’s throats all the time.

And yet they call it “common”? 

There will always be calls by those whose unexplainable sensibilities are offended by what they perceive as unfair or inappropriate law because it doesn’t comport with their knee-jerk vision of a correct outcome to do away with the law and leave it in the hands of normal folks, applying good-old common sense.  But the only use of the word “disciplinary” involves a good smack across the face.

Downfall Meets Law Review

Sorry.  Have no choice. Too funny,  This one is for all the lawprofs out there. You are not alone.

Best line: “It’s OK. He won’t really go back to private practice.” 
Second best line: “Or I could start my own blog.”

H/T Dan Markel at PrawfsBlawg

A Lawyer’s Misery For Sale on Craigslist

It’s not the first time. In 2008, David Wold offered his law degree from DePaul for sale on eBay.  Now, another degree, school unknown but for it being “elitist”, is offered on Craigslist for the price of outstanding student loans, $59,250.

The ad shows all the signs of an disgruntled buyer.

After several years of practicing law I have come to the conclusion that my law degree is useless and I don’t want to be a lawyer anymore. Though I spent over $100,000 on it I am willing to sell it for the bargain basement price of $59,250, which is the current value of my remaining student loan balance.

This priceless collectible will permit you to be surrounded by hobby-less assholes whose entire life is dictated by billing by the hour and being anal dickheads. Additionally, this piece of paper has the amazing ability to keep you from doing what you really want to do in life, all in the name of purported prestige and financial success. Finally, girls in the Marina will swoon with retarded thoughts of sugar daddy when they hear you went to XXX prestigious law school and are a lawyer.

Act now as supplies are limited and this crap takes three years to make. DISCLAIMER: this piece of shit isn’t even written in English. It’s in Latin or something, but I have the translation. It says “Haha. We took your tuition money bitch, now suck it. Sincerely, President of the University”

Added Bonus: It’s from one of those elitist BS institutions that accept people like George W. Bush cause their daddy donated $20 million i.e. Cornell, Penn, Harvard, Yale, Columbia, Georgetown, Duke, Tijuana Tech, etc. Instead of donating $20 million you can have it for the low low price of $59,250 or best offer.

This is actually a serious post. I will really sell this piece of shit.

No one, of course, will buy the diploma.  It’s just a piece of paper with someone else’s name on it.  It won’t impress the “girls in the Marina.”   Some will see this as another manifesto of a loser, which, of course, it is.  But it’s more a warning to the unwary, to the law schools and to the mommies and daddies who push their little darlings into the law in the hope that they will become more than they were.

The seller blames the law. His anger is understandable, but misdirected.  He should never have gone to law school, never have become a lawyer.  Being a lawyer is hard work.  Becoming a lawyer doesn’t guarantee anyone wealth and prestige.  He made a very expensive mistake, and now finds himself miserable. 

The seller blames the law schools.  He’s closer to the target now.  Law schools sell the dream, the image that fills their high priced seats with young men and women, that pays for over-priced law professors to indulge their fantasies of writing useless articles and treatises for their own self-aggrandizement.  The take in far more students than can possibly find a viable future in the law, knowing full well that society can’t absorb them all, and couldn’t care less.  They fudge the employment statistics to make the cost appear worth it.  They lie to students, and then to themselves to rationalize their deception.

The seller of this diploma, who I will call Max since he’s neglected to include his name in the Craigslist ad, wants to make a point that he was scammed.  Many will argue that if Max is anywhere near as bright and worthy as he thinks, he should have known what he was getting into.  He should have understood what it meant to be a lawyer.  He should have realized that he was being lied to. 

Whether he should have is one issue; that those entering law school, applying for huge loans, sitting eagerly in class hoping to suck in enough information to make law review and assure themselves of a wonderful life, rarely see their future clearly is a truism.  Even with the stories, the posts, the complaints, the hatred that spews from disaffected young lawyers, they believe that their life will be different, wonderful.  Right or wrong, we know this is how they think.  And if they didn’t, half the seats in the ever-increasing number of law schools would be empty. 

Max is wrong.  His anger is misdirected.  The law is a wonderful profession for those who desire to be lawyers.  For those who enter the law because they want wealth, prestige and work/life balance, it will be a misery. 

Even as Max’s ad runs its course, the American Association of Law Schools is preparing for its 2011 conference by seeking ways to deal with the problem.  It’s put out a call for proposals:


A Joint Program of the Sections on Balance in Legal Education and Academic Support>>

Co-Sponsored by the Section on Student Services>>


Theme:    “Beyond Humanizing:  Can – and Should – Law Schools Strive to Graduate Happy Students?”>>


Students often enter law school with goals of helping others, improving peoples’ lives, and making the world a better place.  By the time they graduate, however, other considerations have supplanted students’ pro-social inclinations.  Their aspirations succumb to more extrinsic values, such as prestige and money, and are often faced with the realities of time pressure and the dehumanizing effects of legal education.  Despite the prestige associated with being an attorney, the profession is not ranked in the top ten for job satisfaction or happiness.  In fact, one recent study revealed that a majority of practitioners would not recommend law to a young person.

Nothing shows more clearly how law schools and academics are trying to hide from their massive failings, their deliberate lies, than this charade.  All those very smart people denying that the problem is their sucking in young people who have no business in the law, wholly lacking an understanding of what lawyers do, and selling a sham future at an absurdly inflated price.  Instead, they pretend that it’s all about changing the profession to make students who have no business being in law school “happy”.  Throw them a party.  Give them a trophy.  As long as we keep the seats filled and the tuition checks flowing, so we can spend our time writing articles that will enhance our personal prestige.

Nothing here reflects the slightest recognition of the responsibility of law schools to vet those who apply for people who want to be lawyers.  The fictional paradigm, about those entering with lofty goals and leaving with cynicism, allows them to keep milking the cash cow while shifting the blame elsewhere.

Stop lying to yourselves.  Stop lying to potential law students.  The law is not an easy life, nor clear path to a happy future.  It’s hard work, and not everybody is cut out for it.  The law cannot be reinvented for the benefit of lawyer happiness; We have a job to do and if the purpose of that job ceases to be service to the client so that we can focus on our own happiness, the law ceases to have a reason to exist. 

If you want Max to be happy, don’t throw him an ice cream party or give him a red balloon.  Give him his money back and let him find an occupation for which he is better suited.  Change your law porn to show hard working, financially struggling young lawyers, who can’t get a date with the girls at the Marina, but won’t have time for it even if they could.  Show them fighting for people whose own miserable lives depend on the lawyer doing his job well in a system that satisfies ego and blood lust better than reason, where every once in a while the right result happens.  And if they still want to go to law school, then you’ve got the right person.

Unfortunately, Max is typical of his generation, only brilliant after the fact, and then only when it comes to pointing the finger of blame away from himself.  But narcissism and entitlement are the hallmarks of today’s law students, and that’s not going to change for a while.  At least the Slackoisie can console themselves by knowing that they aren’t totally at fault for being blind pigeons in this scam.  They have good reason to blame law schools and professors. 

Breaking Even

Via Above The Law and, cleaned up some, Volokh Conspiracy, Northwestern Law School Dean David Van Zandt,at the PLI Law Firm Leadership and Management Institute, offered his thoughts on the future of legal education.  Included in his speech was this:

One of his most interesting tidbits was the starting salary that would constitute a “break-even point” for going to law school. In other words, what salary would you have to earn upon graduation in order to make going to law school an economically rational decision?

Van Zandt and some of his Northwestern colleagues did a study to determine the added value of a J.D. degree. They concluded that the break-even starting salary for a law school graduate is $65,000. Put another way, going to a law school with a median salary upon graduation that’s below $65,000 is not a wise investment.

Schools with median starting salaries under $65,000, which generally land somewhere in the 70s in the U.S. News & World Report rankings, are not good values. They need to either lower their cost to students and/or improve job opportunities for their graduates, according to Van Zandt.

Over at ATL, where most of the readers are, or more likely, want to be, Biglaw bench warmers, there was much quacking about the details.  David Lat questioned whether Van Zandt’s $65k was high enough, while others nipped at the edges of the number by noting that some schools charged more, others less. 

(A break-even point of $65K seems low to us, given high law school tuition, the borrowing costs associated with student loans, and the opportunity cost of going to law school when you could be earning a salary in some other industry. We’ve reached out to Dean Van Zandt to ask for more detail about the data he utilized and the assumptions he made in reaching his conclusion. Another academic, Herwig Schlunk of Vanderbilt Law, believes that the break-even point is much higher.)
While accuracy matters, it obscures the more important point, one that we seldom think much about if at all.  I can’t remember a would-be law student, asking my advice on entering the law, considered it from a cost-benefit standpoint.  It was assumed that becoming a lawyer meant that one would enjoy a financially comfortable life.  It was a given.

Dean Van Zandt’s raising the point, even if we quibble about the details, is important in that it puts the question squarely in issue.  If you are not going to come out of law school and fall into a job/practice where you earn somewhere in the neighborhood of $65,000, you’ve made a poor financial decision.

Of course, at ATL, no one considers the application of this issue to criminal law, the nasty niche far under the radar of students aspiring to engage in the practice of important areas law, like M&A.  Are there any prosecutorial or public defender offices that pay new hires $65,000 or more?  Not that I’m aware of, making lawyers who want to enter into criminal law financial failures.

When it comes to criminal defense, I suspect that most lawyers come to it with a desire to spend their days doing it.  It’s not a money issue, as opportunities for vast wealth are remarkably limited.  In that way, it can be considered more pure than more lucrative practice areas, attracting young lawyers for the right reasons rather than the money.  There’s not much money to be had, and nobody thinks otherwise.

On the other hand, if young lawyers gave much thought to the cost of their education versus the income they would anticipate deriving from it, one might suspect that they would think long and hard about whether their desire to practice criminal law was so strong that they would be willing to make a substantial financial sacrifice to do it.  I mean, it’s fun, but is it that much fun?

What’s notable about the break even point is that the job market for young lawyers tends to divide into the Biglaw jobs paying substantially more, and all other jobs paying substantially less.  There aren’t many jobs out there for new lawyers offering $65,000 a year.  Most of the jobs, obviously, fall well under the break even point.

So what to do about it.  One solution is to reduce the cost of a law school education, but that would result in lowering the barrier to entry and more people wanting to go to law school.  New law schools are opening as we speak, demonstrating that the ABA is of the view that we don’t have enough lawyers, as opposed to too many.  Perhaps everybody will be a lawyer someday.  The more lawyers, the greater the supply and lower the salaries.  And the all the other problems that come along with idle lawyer hands.

Another solution is to increase salaries, as if legal costs aren’t high enough already.  No doubt the public is saying, “darn, I should sue/defend more often since it’s such a good financial deal and will help that nice young lawyer earn a decent living.”

Dean Van Zandt suggests that changing the way law schools train lawyers, by turning the third year experiential, or even eliminating it altogether.  He notes that law schools are resistant to this change, although his school, Northwestern, has made some fundamental changes in its program.  To the extent that law schools fail to produce people capable of practicing law upon admission, Van Zandt leaves it up to law firms to provide the practical education young lawyers need to turn their law school experience into something remotely useful.

Nobody suggests, of course, that we stop producing more lawyers than society needs or can absorb.  And certainly nobody feels any qualms about the fact that our prosecutorial and public defender functions rely on overworked and underpaid young lawyers who, if they had an ounce of fiscal intelligence, would have put their money into gold and opened a shoe store.  Everybody needs shoes.

One thing is painfully clear.  If you’re looking for a decent investment, don’t go to law school.  And if you’ve already blown that choice, definitely don’t become a criminal lawyer.  It’s like flushing your money down the toilet.  Unless you happen to really want to do this for the rest of your life.

The Slackoisie Take The Lectern

That the seats in our law schools are filled with the Slackoisie is nothing new.  But do they own the lectern as well?  From Jeffrey Harrison’s description at MoneyLaw, so it would seem.

I analogized it to regulatory capture in the sense that faculty who were supposed to govern law schools for the benefit of shareholders — students, taxpayers, donors — actually governed to benefit themselves. The range of questionable activities ran from teaching specialized low enrollment courses because the topic was of interest to the teacher (but not to very many students) to foreign boondoggles, pushing ideology in the classroom, and hiring and tenure decisions based on social and political considerations rather than the merits of the candidates.

Harrison called lawprofs as “shirkers”, putting their responsibilities to others second, and making sure that they were taking care of number one.  He attributes it to an unbearable sense of entitlement.

After all, law faculties are largely populated by children of privilege. (I wonder what the record is for the most expensive education. I think we have it.) Many times their sense of entitlement is over the top. They deserve, therefore, to teach what they want to teach at the time they want to teach it, they deserve that new furniture or to vote yes on tenure for a pal because they have been told, since birth, that they are special. Some have a virtually infinite capacity to explain why they are deserving and why they are on the moral high road whether or not they are.

Does any of this sound familiar?  While Harrison’s focus is limited to his colleagues in academia, and hence his attribution of their ways to their “elite” educations, there’s little to distinguish these entitled lawprofs from the young Slackoisie lawyers that sat next to them in class and are now taking up office space in law firms around the country. 

Well, maybe two differences.  First, they may be a bit smarter than most, and thus more capable of manufacturing arguments to explain why their entitlement is more worthy than others.  Second, they exist in an environment where they can get away with putting self-interest ahead of all else.  The “shareholders” in law school aren’t in a position to be quite as demanding as clients.  Or quite as unforgiving.

Harrison struggles to clean up some loose ends about his belief that entitlement stems from attendance at our “elite” institutions of learning, noting that not every lawprof is a shirker, and that some who attended the less-elite schools seem even more entitled than those who went to the Big Time law schools. 

More importantly, not all those with an elite education seem to feel entitled. Far from it. Plus, some of those who do not have an elite education seem to feel an extreme sense of entitlement. Maybe all that can be said is those with the elite educations are more likely to have a sense of entitlement and more likely to justify their anti stakeholder activities than those without the same background.

With a few steps backward, I suspect Harrison will recognize that it’s not an elite law school issue at all, but the pervasive narcissism of the Slackoisie that has invaded his ivory tower.  The elites are simply better able to rationalize their narcissism, while the back-benchers have learned a lesson or two from getting kicked in the teeth on their way to work. 

None of this need be tolerated.  Lawprofs have a job to do, just like everyone else.  But it requires someone to cut them down to size, burst their bubble and give them a good smack in the face.  Teach the darn students, and forget about twirling around in your ermine stole.  Lawprofs exist to teach law students.  Law students don’t exist to fund lawprofs’ flights of fancy.

Worse still, if the lawprofs are so self-absorbed that they can’t see their own sense of entitlement undermining the very purpose of their existence, how will they be able to grow law students beyond their own Slackoisie narcissism?  Who will teach them that being a lawyer is about serving clients rather than feeling good about yourself or making happy hour at the tavern?  As we criticize the young lawyers coming out for their lack of dedication to clients, their inability to comprehend the notion of hard or disagreeable work, their entitlement, we can’t forget about the group of men and women, the last vanguard, who stand between the students and the lawyers.  They are supposed to teach them how to be lawyers, provided they aren’t too busy indulging their own self-important fantasies to notice the room full of students in front of them.

Not every law student will get a trophy.  Yet, every lawprof thinks they deserve one, and their fellow lawprofs are only too happy to oblige.  After all, they’re entitled.  They’re the Slackoisie.

Don’t Quote Me

The past two days were spent on the faculty of Cardozo Law School’s Intensive Trial Advocacy Program (ITAP).  If your law school doesn’t have a similar program, ask why.  If they aren’t interested, transfer. Forget law review or whatever tier your school claims.  This is what lawyers do, and if your school isn’t doing it, then you lose.

This program, taught primarily by practicing lawyers and judges, including some of the best around who fly in across the country to be a part of the gang and offer their experience, provides an experience to law students that has the potential to actually enable them to walk into a courtroom and act like a lawyer.  Professors Ellen Yaroshefsky and Barry Scheck (who is phasing himself out of running the program) have a great thing going.

For the lawyers and judges, the most fun is the opportunity to hang out, listen to the war stories and see friends that we haven’t run across in the past year.  We tend to spend some intense time with other lawyers when we work with them on a case, and then lose track as we move on to other cases with other lawyers.  They become part of the coterie of old friends, people we like, respect and wish we could speak with more often.  Of course, life makes that difficult.

The most curious aspect of this year’s ITAP experience was how many people had stories to tell me, about their cases, lawyers, experience, whatever, and at the end of the conversation, would say to me, “that’s off the record, right?”  It appears that my blawging precedes me, and it makes even old, trusted friends a little wary about what they say to me.

I’ve got my doubts about this lawyer/journalist concept, about whether what I do here qualifies me to claim amateur reporter status.  While I have, on occasion, “broken” news, and I do pass stories of interest around from time to time, most of my effort is better defined as commentary than reporting.  The ABA Journal calls my posts “rants”, but that’s only because they hate me.

However, my sense was that blawging has changed things.  Not to the extent that old friends aren’t still friends, but that they want to be sure that they are talking to Greenfield the lawyer, not Greenfield the blawger.  Their words, thoughts, complaints, interests aren’t for publication, but for talk amongst their own. 

Let there be no doubt that I’m lawyer first and blawger second.  These men and women are not my “sources”, but my friends and peers.  I’m not a mole, taking notes on every nasty word spoken or beef between the brothers.  I’m just another lawyer hanging out with my own.

Don’t worry guys. I won’t quote you. 

But I will tell one funny story.  Fifth Circuit Judge Ed Prado was in my group, along with Arizona lawprof Zelda Harris, who was our team leader.  Judge Prado (yes, I still call judges judge, even in this friendly, informal setting) was having some fun during downtime telling the law students stories about life as a federal circuit judge, and he’s quite the raconteur.  Zelda kept trying to shut him down, as his stories were more interesting than hers, and he would feign being a scolded child whenever Zelda gave him the evil eye. 

During a break, Judge Prado was talking about cowboy boots, being from San Antoine, and explained how he admired his Luccheses.  This stopped the students cold, and they stared at him in wonderment.  The judge had no idea what happened, why the students were suddenly looking at him like he was nuts.

I chimed in at that moment (cautiously, as I didn’t want to be scolded by Zelda), and said, “Judge, in New York, the name Luchese has a different meaning than it does in San Antoine.  Everybody broke up, except Zelda who admonished us to get back to work.

If you get a chance to attend ITAP, whether as student or faculty, I urge you to go for it.  It’s a great experience.